Global talks, local voices
Local envoy attends Madrid climate change talks
HOUGHTON — Earlier this month, The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held its 25th Conference of the Parties in Madrid. The conference was attended by representatives from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and multinational corporations to try to settle some of the issues of international climate change legislation. Also present were representatives from a number of universities doing research on climate science, including Michigan Technological University.
“The UNFCC has a procedure for universities to apply to get observer status so I decided to apply on behalf of MTU,” Professor Sarah Green said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of research going on at Tech relating to climate change and energy transitions.”
In total, ten representatives of the University were able to attend the two-week conference. There they were able to watch negotiations, listen to panel discussions and presentations, and even present their own research.
“My personal research is on Lake County Illinois, looking at people’s perceptions of their food, energy, and water consumption,” Hancock resident and MTU Delegate Will Lytle said in a separate phone interview. “That gets joined with other parts of research where we’re actually measuring trying to change behavior and thinking about consumption on a larger framework.”
The delegates also presented research gathered at MTU’s Sustainability Demonstration House, where residents live with solar energy, composting, and other less-than-mainstream sustainability efforts. The SDH is also an example of one level of what Lytle called Policy Scale that starts at individual choices and continues through multinational agreements like the 2016 Paris Agreement.
“There are some things that can only really be dealt with at the international level,” said Lytle.
While the MTU delegates were excited to be a part of the process, some of them also reported coming away feeling disappointed.
“The two main things that they needed to figure out were a mechanism to create a carbon market … and how to manage the diffusion of money and technology from developed countries into developing countries,” said Lytle. “The countries that are very dependent on fossil fuels as a major part of their economy generally halted the negotiations. There were two things that needed to get done and a lot of other things that did get done but those two things were not accomplished.”
The economic angle on climate change largely circles the established fossil fuel economy, though the transition toward more renewable energy also has economic promise.
“We, as a global community, have to change our entire energy infrastructure over the next 30 years and that is employment for engineers and scientists for the next 60 years,” said Green. “Just about everything being done at Tech can be, or should be, geared toward sustainability.”
Despite the slow pace of change, Green and Lytle expressed hope and both pointed out that the discussion is no longer about proving climate change and is now about how to act on the accepted science.
Lytle also mentioned grassroots organizations, including the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and Keweenaw Youth for Climate Action, which both promote individual choices and legislation to end climate change.
For more information on the work that Michigan Tech researchers are doing, visit mtu.edu/sustainability.